A Short Story of Racism & Appropriation

CELEBRATING CINCO DE WHAT?

I ducked under a low-hanging paper banner strung across the entrance of Lou’s Bar & Grill. Dangling rows of the same paper banner hung from every wall inside the place. Black flag cutouts displaying skulls and skeletal faces painted in neon white. A bigger banner of dead bones lit up the length of the bar where my co-workers were celebrating.

I was late. Sarah was going to kill me. She did not like being left alone with the guys for so long. We were the only two girls in our social group, which she didn’t mind, unless I was late, and I was super late.

As I got closer, and hoped she’d had enough to drink to nullify her anger. I didn’t have an excused for why I wasn’t on time. I could try telling her the truth, but I was 100% positive no one in our group, not even Sarah, would understand why celebrating Cinco de Mayo wasn’t foremost on my mind given the week’s headlines.

“Look who decided to show up?” Sarah acknowledged my tardiness but was not angry.

“Sorry.” I said. “Hey, guys.” I took the stool next to Sarah at the round bar top table.

Jack and Mike greeted me, but I couldn’t hear a single word over the loud music pouring out of the speakers. Though no one said it, I guessed Steve was in the bathroom.

“I gotta learn how to dance that salsa, man. Seriously.” A fairly drunk Jack tapped Mike on the shoulder before holding his hands up in a dancing position and shaking his torso so hard he almost knocked himself off the stool.

“It’s actually bachata.” I tried to correct him but no one was listening. “Not salsa.”

“Whaaaat?” Sarah lifted her hand to her ear and leaned closer to me.

“Bachata. It’s called bachata.”

“Huhhh?”

“I said it’s bachata,” I repeated, leaning closer to her. “It’s not even Mexican.” I tried to educate. “It’s from the Dominican…never mind.” I stopped when she stopped listening.

Sarah shouted at Mike and waved her hands in circles gesturing for him to order another round of ginormous drink bowls from the waiter who hurried past our table. “We need mucho mas Strawberry Margarita Bowls, señor! Cinco! Cinco bowls!”

How drunk was Sarah?

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No “Otherness” Allowed

I recall with shame squandering the better part of my youth learning how to shed my Cuban coat to conceal my otherness. But, I couldn’t exactly change my skin color or hide my high check bones, pronounced jaw line, large dark eyes, and long, wavy, black hair that outed me as some exotic Spanish gypsy.

Instead I practiced my English every day in front of the mirror for hours after school to get rid of my accent.

Everything around me pointed to the fact that changing my speech patterns was step one in the critical process of assimilation for foreigners—it goes without saying that if you don’t speak the language you might as well not exist. There were countless weekends spent glued to the tube mimicking reruns of The Young and the Restless. Soap opera actresses all had the gentle and non-ethnic demeanor I was determined to assume to become a proper Americanita.

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The Secret of Lizard Pie

I avoid Tía Alba’s awkward conversation about colonizers and inquire after the strange pie instead. “What kind of pie is that?”

“Smells good, right?” She knows the answer is a resounding yes. “Tell you what, I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine.”

I’m positive I’ve spilled no secrets, but Tía Alba seems convinced I’m hiding something. And she’s not wrong. “Okay, so what kind of pie is it?”

“I understand all about secrets.” She ignores my question. “You don’t get to live out here all your life without knowing how to take a secret or two to your grave. Besides, you’ll soon hear I’m known as the Queen of Lizard Pie.”

I’m not sure what she means but I pretend to follow along.

“Do you like Lizard Pie?” She turns to reach for something, then turns back to me with a perfectly round piece of pie served on a perfectly large porcelain plate in her large hand. She sets it in front of me, rests both hands on her wide hips and demands. “What are you waiting for. Dig in!”

“Did you say Lizard Pie?” The freshly baked pie looks even more amazing up close, with the most golden crust I’ve ever seen and steam escaping between the spaces of the flaky but tightly knit pastry latticework.

The entire café, like at Big Betty’s, is filled with the aroma of minced meat with a sofrito of yellow onions, cumin, achiote, paprika, salsa de tomate, Pasilla peppers, plums and carrots, all sizzling and dancing around a hot pan until its nutty, spicy, and sweet scents like molasses, hypnotize every hungry customer in the place.

“Well?” She asked impatiently before I have time to pick up a fork and test her lizard meat concoction. Sensing my confusion, she decides to help my curiosity along. “Why don’t you just ask me what you really wanna ask me? The obvious question.” She winks, handing me a spoon.

The obvious question? I don’t even know where to start. What is lizard meat? Why would you put it in a pie? Why add it to a menu? Do you not like your customers? All great questions just not sure which she’d considered the obvious one.

Tía Alba finally breaks through the silence. “It’s okay. I get why people wanna know if there’s actual lizard in my famous Lizard Pie.” She laughs.

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Because One Cupcake Is Never Enough

AN EXCERPT FROM MY 3rd NOVEL: ONCE UPON A CUPCAKE SHOP

Available through: https://amzn.to/2O0b96E

THAT NIGHT, after showering in the old, upstairs apartment, Eva felt the lingering romance of the farmer’s market adventure. She couldn’t stop thinking about him. Who knew she’d ever have a him to think of again. She couldn’t stop humming her favorite song in the rundown kitchen of her new shop. The lyrics of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville rattled around in her head as she unpacked ingredients and baker’s tools, staging them across the stainless-steel counter. She was ready to try the  riskiest of recipes. One only her grandma was known to pull off successfully, the Dark Chocolate Orange Cupcake.

Eva unearthed the chocolate mousse she’d left in the fridge to set overnight, and was set to start on the next step, when Leandro came from the upstairs bathroom where he’d taken Eva up on a quick rinse after a sweaty, hot day at the market.

“What’s this?” Leandro ask about the brown mixture in a scuffed white enamel bowl covered in clear wrap.

“Mousse I made for the icing.” Eva got nervous. The words from the lady at the market played back in her mind like an audiobook of a romance novel on repeat. I can tell you guys speak the same language, the observant woman had pointed out as they stood at her tent completing each other’s sentences. Continue reading “Because One Cupcake Is Never Enough”

Controversial Book review

Good romance trope but not for me – and I am becoming increasingly more uncomfortable with white authors representing other cultures and cultural experiences outside their wheelhouse. I felt Olive and her family were stereotyped into some fabled idea white people have that Latinos and their families are not only NUMEROUS but very close and nosy (in each other’s business) – not to mention my constant disappointment when these girls all fall for dudes with green or “the deepest blue eyes” anyone has ever seen. These stereotypes do not hold – My latin household consists of me (the only child), my mom who’s miles away and completely minds her own business, and a black husband – the farthest from anything blue or green-eyed. But sadly, I shouldn’t “throw stones” about writing out of wheelhouses b/c I, too, have told stories from the white perspective and white protagonist when my own culture was not in high demand – and now that Latinx is more in demand our stories are being written by white authors. Go figure. I am so so conflicted, and exhausted, and just arrrrgggg. Sorry for the rant Christina Lauren and others – having a Monday.

POSTSCRIPT: I just realized I posted what I felt and like a good person of color awash in the white mainstream I apologized in the end and shucked it to having a “Monday” – I don’t even have the testicular courage to stand by what I feel about white authors writing POC stories. Ugh.

Because Romance Should Last Well Past Valentines

AN EXCERPT FROM MY 3rd NOVEL: ONCE UPON A CUPCAKE SHOP

Available through: https://amzn.to/2O0b96E

Eva took a deep breath followed by a long exhale. She was finished decorating the last of the lemon drop cupcakes when she spotted a flock of city pigeons flying past the apartment’s fire escape. She felt overwhelmed.  Overcome by a sudden sense of wander.

Eva rushed over and leaned out the window to follow them. She caught only a glimpse as they disappeared north of Middagh Street. Eva was certain they were going home.

Eva stopped to imagine how great it would feel to have a place to go home to. Home. She let the word roam along the alcoves of her heart. Her memory. She’d had a home once.

“Earth to Eva.” BFF Diana interrupted Evie’s trance and picked a red velvet cupcake to sample next. “You sure it’s the right move? Feels too soon.”

“No, Dee.” Eva exhaled. “I’m not sure at all. I haven’t been sure about anything since the accident.” It was an honest response—a kind of letting go that comes from accepting the reality of things. She took another sip of her latte. “Except for this.” She lifted her cup and they air-toasted Diana’s coffee-making skills across the counter. “This jolt of caffeine was just what I needed. Now please, promise me you’re gonna stop stressing. You’re my best friend. Your job is to lie to me and tell me everything’s gonna be okay but you’re more freaked out then I am.” Eva reached for the tangy sweetness of another lemon drop cupcake, a perfect complement to Diana’s strong coffee and one of her favorites—her father’s special recipe, with a splash of Italian limoncello liqueur instead of lemon juice.

“I’m freaked out because yours, my dear, is a freak-out-worthy situation. I just don’t think you guys are ready to be on your own yet.” Diana leaned on the counter to appear more supportive, more optimistic but nervous tapping fingers over her I’m-The-Boss mug gave her away. “It’s only been—”

“It’s time, Dee.” Eva put her cup down, rounded the island, stood behind her best friend and leaned in to hug her. “When you offered us your spare room, it was supposed to be for a few months. And you rescued us just when we needed it the most. But it’s been almost seven years. I’ve had time to mourn Andy. You helped me get out of bed and back to work. I’ve even managed to save a little money along the way. But Olivia’s turning seven. She’s growing up so fast. We need a home.” She whispered the last part. “I owe her that much.”

“Tell Me a Story”

OUR FASCINATION WITH STORIES GOES BACK AS FAR AS THE ORIGINS OF HUMANKIND

We ARE the stories we tell.

And, we can’t get enough of them.

The human race has been dazzled and charmed by the power of the narrative since the days our ancestors sat around the fire to captivate and entertain us with their tales of heroism, danger and adventure.

Our love for storytelling has survived across millennia, and has even sparked the curiosity of the scientific community (which despite their many theories and data-collection, continue to struggle to definitively explain the roots of our fascination).

This unexplained phenomenon manifests itself in a plethora of flavors, from the most humorous accounts to the most gruesome of tales.

Some of us love fantasy stories; its journey into the magical realm allows us the escape from the grind of daily existence so many of us crave. Many of us prefer Science Fiction; fantasy’s counterpart which serves a similar escape into new and “undiscovered” worlds driven by the lore of scientific speculation and mysticism.

Then, there are those of us who yearn for the emotional voyage into the world of happy-ever-afters of romance novels – some argue this is perhaps to escape our disillusionment with the realities and complexities of relationships. And, of course, how can we leave out the thrillers, suspense and mystery novels that fulfill the need for puzzle-solving and deliver that rush of the whodunit that comes when all is revealed. The YA and realistic or more literary masterpieces, often serve those who seek to answers life’s most challenging and infinite questions. And this is all just the beginning…

There are unforgettable war stories, David and Goliath stories, and success stories (hence our fascination with biographies and autobiographies – in which the more the person struggled the better). Some people obsess over characters, rather than the stories themselves – hence the countless fans of such fictional heavyweights as Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Laura Croft and Indiana Jones. We shouldn’t leave out the large readership of great world-building masters like J.K. Rowling, R.R. Martin and Tolkien.

Beyond literature, lies a world of stories in visual form that have been just as successful in capturing our attention and validating our obsession with storytelling: the grand and colorful world of movies and television. Star Wars. Star Trek. Jurassic Park. E.T. Every Harry Potter ever produced for the big screen. And you may be surprised to know, that in that same vein, at the heart of every epic story is a character we love, cheer for, for cry for and ultimately make part of our own life. Character struggle makes our fascination possible – its the reason we may read one of the great heroines of all time, Elizabeth Bennet, and in that same night, tune into our favorite episodes of the Kardashians. NO – Kim Kardashian is NO Elizabeth Bennet – shame on you for even thinking I’d ever propose that! This risky comparison is just to illustrate that at the heart of every great story is a character that makes us continue to want more; more conflict, more battles, more mysteries, more challenges, more of that magical journey that happens when PEOPLE face off with LIFE (fictional or real, magical or mysterious) – WE WANT MORE AND ALWAYS WILL – long live our fascination with stories and characters, despite WHERE that fascination comes from! Don’t fix it, if it ain’t broke!

Marisol & Mauricio: Once an Egg Slut

Marisol and Mauricio Montenegro finally entered familiar territory. Of all the things amiss between them, the love of food was not one of them. During their separation, Mauricio become an even better chef than he had been. He was a foodie before moving into their loft but had learned so much from the farm-to-table movement that had taken L.A.’s downtown culinary scene by storm. 

Manny always made mental notes during the couple’s many fine dining experiences and reimagined the recipes at home for an enthusiastic Mari—none more memorable than the Egg Slut meal at Grand Central Market. Mauricio was a sucker for anything eggy—the runnier the better.

The first course was placed in front of the diners, but for Mauricio the room disappeared and there was only Marisol, “Holy-Incredible-Dish-Batman!” He turned to his wife.

Marisol had not heard her husband’s favorite expression in weeks and didn’t expect something that trivial to make her explode with emotion. Mari was thankful Cassandra had organized the seating. She wasn’t prepared to vie for her husband’s attention all night the way she had at brunch. Marisol smiled a big wide smile—a comfort smile, a familiar smile—and she agreed with Mauricio. The first course was delicious. “Wow, twice-baked bone marrow with caramelized shallots, capers and parsley in a lemon-olive oil reduction topped with a perfectly poached egg. They got your number, you egg slut!”

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A Miami Club Scene

The nightclub energy at the Clevelander rooftop terrace camouflaged its danger. Loud music coursed through the concrete beneath the clicks of high heels and the taps of men’s dress shoes. A constant stench of stale dried up beer permeated the bar tops. The heavy smell of hot oil fused with the hot breeze as endless appetizers were fried back in the kitchen.

At the center of the nightclub tableau, irresistibly gorgeous, scantily dressed club goers engaged in aggressive grinding, a mating ritual more akin to sex than dancing.

Jules may have found it liberating, and even primal were she not there on business, or if she didn’t know the truth of what happened behind the scenes. Miami club nights were infamous. They were not just a must-do activity on a traveler’s brochure. For locals, the nightclub was a way of life. It was when hundreds of singles, and not-so-singles, packed themselves into tight spaces to drink, mingle, and grind, unaware of the risks. There to parade and flaunt their wares under the neon lights or in the dark corners of South Beach’s most coveted party spots.

At the bar, Jules slammed her second Kamikaze, determined to take in the scene a bit longer. Jules dragged the empty rocks glass back and forth across the wood grain of the bar top. Jules tilted the glass back, optimistic about harvesting one last sip of alcohol. Her heightened need for booze was a familiar sign her nerves had kicked in. She ran the glass across the sticky bar top again. When the sexy bartender leaned her bouncy breasts over the counter to asked Jules if she was ready for another, Jules struggled through the loud thumping of house music and responded with shaky, maybe in a little bit.

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Hungry

When Samantha returned from her morning’s adventures, she found their love nest engulfed in salsa music and hubby, Alejandro, standing tall over the kitchen island with his hands inside a silver, mixing bowl. He tossed diced tomatoes, chopped garlic, and minced basil leaves in a bath of virgin olive oil to the rhythms of Oscar De León. He would top the mixture off with a pinch of salt and three or four twists of his pepper mill. Alejandro engaged in the serious business of making his wife a satisfying lunch—not a task he ever took lightly. 

When he was in the kitchen, which was often, Alejandro worked with such intensity that a stranger might mistake his passion for anger. But friends and family knew that the extreme focus and crinkled brow was Alejandro’s look of concentration and there was no place he concentrated more than in the kitchen. 

“You hungry yet? I’ll have some bruschetta ready for you in just a minute,” Alejandro bounced around from one corner of the kitchen to the other—one second in the fridge for a lemon, the next back in the oven checking that the broiler toasted the edges of the baguette slices just right, all while sipping from his glass of Cabernet.

Samantha sat at the island and placed the canvas bag on an adjacent stool, “It smells really good,” she responded, tapped the jellybeans and Magic 8-Ball inside the bag and thought, later. She wanted to enjoy Alejandro performing one of her favorite activities, so she poured herself a bit of the Cabernet and sat front row to take in the show. When Alejandro cooked Sam forgot everything—especially her frustrations.

He zipped more of his wine from the stovetop where he stirred the creamy black peppercorn sauce for his Steak au Poivre then it was back to the oven to check on the baguettes. The edges were browned enough to his liking. With a professional flick of the wrist, he took the kitchen towel off his shoulder and dove in after the baking sheet, “Almost,” he assured her.

Like all proper chefs, Alejandro owned an exhausted collection of kitchen towels. At least a dozen at any given time, with half a dozen in active use. The main dry towel always hung steady on his shoulder in case there was wiping to be done, drying of the hands or need for an emergency potholder. That one was changed out daily to be rinsed then thrown back into the rotation. His bleach towel kept his station clean. He could usually get fourteen good wipes out of it with a clean side. The hot-handle towel lived wrapped around his tongs and kept on a stainless spoon rest when it wasn’t in his left hand. There was a time when all Alejandro got for Christmas were bouquets of kitchen towels.

“Okay, tell me what you think,” Alejandro turned around and gave Sam a square plate with six bruschetta slices overflowing with goodness. He picked up what he considered to be the most perfect of all the bites, lifted it to her lips and waited patiently until Samantha parted her lips, opened her mouth wide, and bit down into the Italian flavors.

“Wow,” Sam mumbled through her first bite. She loved the earthiness of the basil, the sweetness of the tomatoes and the smooth tones of olive oil. Sam loved the sharp garlic and the salty kick of the prosciutto even more. “Wow,” she repeated with a smile.

Continue reading “Hungry”